In 1949, 4-year-old Ricky Jean Bryant disappeared while her family home burnt to the ground. Did she perish in the fire, or was she taken from her front yard?
Ricky Jean Bryant was last seen in Mauston, Wisconsin on December 19, 1949. She was at home with her grandmother, who was her primary caregiver, and two other siblings. That afternoon, a fire broke out in the house.
Accounts of what happened next differ between those who were there
According to Ricky's 5-year-old brother, he and his siblings were standing in the yard watching the fire when a woman drove up in an expensive-looking car. He claims she instructed him to get help, and rather than go to the nearest home, she urged him to go to a house further down the road. When he returned with help, both his sister and the unidentified woman were gone.
Ricky's grandmother, however, told a very different account of events. She claims that when the fire started; she took Ricky's brother and sister outside and then returned to the house to find Ricky. She was unable to locate her.
The neighbor that came to help has also shared her story, which is much more in line with Ricky's brothers' account. Further, she claims that Ricky's grandmother told her to stop looking and that Ricky was elsewhere.
At the time, most authorities believe Ricky died in the fire that consumed her house. Some possible bone fragments were sent to a state laboratory for analysis, but they were not identified as hers.
Ricky's siblings believe she may possibly still be alive. They think Ricky was possibly conceived out of wedlock and the fire was set as a diversion so someone could take Ricky away from her home.
Where is the case today?
At her siblings' request, authorities reopened the investigation into Ricky's disappearance over fifty years after she vanished. A Minnesota woman had her DNA tested, believing she might be a member of the Bryant family in 2006, but the results were not a match. Unfortunately, records associated with her disappearance and the fire were destroyed in a flood in early 2000, and according to Shaun Goyette of the Juneau County Sheriff’s Office:
“The problem is no one from the fire department is still around from back then, no one from the sheriff’s department is still around and some members of her family have passed.”
Her case remains unsolved. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children published an updated composite photo of what Bryant would have looked like in 2012.
If you know anything about the disappearance of Ricky Jean Bryant, please contact the Juneau County Sheriff's Department at 608-847-5649.